(Or why oor MSPs are scurrying hither and thon, working a damn sight harder this recess than they did in the last parliamentary session.)
The elections may be nine months away but frankly they’ll worry about that later. For as every politician worth their salt knows, the first and most important election is the selection. Ensuring that as a sitting MSP you aren’t junked unceremoniously and if you are a newbie that you get yourself a decent berth.
Tactics vary widely amongst the parties according to the electoral arithmetic. Thus, if you belong to the SNP, unless a constituency MSP is not standing again, only a handful of constituency seats have any likelihood of being added to their current tally of 21 – and that would be on a good day. So most prospective newcomers are seeking a seat in a region where they can work the vote to get a high ranking.
A majority of Labour’s MSPs are constituency ones, only a very few are retiring but a couple of berths at least will be available for newcomers courtesy of those who defected to Westminster this year. By and large, though, it’s nae luck newbies, except in regions like Lothians where you have half a chance of getting elected through the list system. Labour often leaves it late in the day to announce any retirements so there might be still be a few surprises sprung.
Liberal Democrats are in the same situation and without a minor polling miracle, there are unlikely to be many winnable constituency seats to choose from. Conservative hopefuls will largely have to trust their luck in ATV to be elected so their candidates will be spending a lot of time in members’ gardens this summer pressing the flesh and hoping to impress.
For the smaller parties, if you want to become an MSP, get yourself right at the top of those lists and pray for a repeat of 2003.
By and large, though, there will be an awful lot of weel kent faces turning up again at Holyrood in 2011 which I am not sure will be a cause for celebration. Worse, there is a distinct possibility that there will be fewer women MSPs.
In 1999, the first Scottish Parliament was made up of 37% of women; it reached its nadir in 2003 ranking 4th in the world for women in Parliament (40%) but in 2007 slipped back to 13th with only 33% of its MSPs being women. Going backwards on gender balance cannot be a good thing.
Only Labour have any kind of positive action in place to ensure gender balance in its representation. In 1999, it twinned constituencies but now appears to favour controversial all female shortlists in some vacant constituencies to ensure continued balance. The SNP had a passionate internal debate in 1999 on installing a zipping system whereby ranked members on the regional lists would be one male, one female. The party rejected the proposal but in a fit of typical SNP pique zipped anyway. Its all gone a bit awry since then.
By accident rather than design no doubt, the Conservatives have near gender balance in their current group: it will be interesting to see if Cameronian modernism prevails in these Scottish elections to ensure that continues. And as for the Liberal Democrats, they have the worst imbalance of all, and a pretty piss poor record generally in promoting women’s representation at all levels.
For every person who will argue why gender balance matters, there are as many who will insist it does not. This burd believes firmly that it does matter. In fact, oor Parly needs to be much more representative generally of the population at large. Thus, half its members should be women, at least 2% should be from the black and ethnic minority community, 10% should be gay, lesbian or trans-sexual (can you imagine the reaction on some faces?! Yay!) and 10% should be disabled. And oh, how I would rejoice if just one gypsy-traveller was elected.
Why does it matter? Because if as a nation, we are truly inclusive and forward looking, comfortable in our own skins, confident in who we are, where we have come from and where we are going, then the Parliament should represent that. In short, Holyrood should be a sum of all of Scotland’s parts.